BGA: Scouting Jonathan Grimes

Bent , TheJetsBlog.com

This week the Jets signed running back Jonathan Grimes to the active roster. Jets fans might not know much about Grimes, so I’ve been looking at preseason footage in detail to investigate what he could bring to the table.

Grimes was signed off the Houston Texans practice squad, so will need to remain on the active roster for at least three weeks. He’s a guy they’ve had their eyes on for some time, as they made a conditional waiver claim on him, which they later withdrew, on cutdown day. However, it’s not yet clear whether he has been brought in with an expectation to contribute immediately or is viewed as a longer-term product (or even just a shot across the bow of Shonn Greene).

After the jump, I’ll be reviewing his preseason performances and considering what he could provide the Jets with this year and going forward.

Who is Jonathan Grimes?

Grimes was a local kid from New Jersey, who went under the radar at a small school (William & Mary), until he led the nation in all purpose yards as a senior. Entering this year’s draft, some sites gave him a sixth round grade, but he didn’t get an invite to the combine and would ultimately go undrafted. In 48 starts at college, he averaged just under 95 yards per game and five yards per carry, while rushing for 34 touchdowns. He also caught 136 passes with seven more touchdowns, returned kicks and punts (including one other score) and even passed for a score.

Grimes is a bit of a throwback player, who isn’t regarded as flashy and is actually a talented pianist. He’s not a power back in the Shonn Greene mold – he weighed in at 207 at his Pro Day this summer and is currently listed at 209. His Pro Day numbers were pretty good, although he only ran a 4.53 forty, so might be considered to lack breakaway speed. However, his 38-inch vertical and a broad jump of over 10-feet are signs of his explosiveness. He also lifted the bar 23 times, displaying some good strength for his size and ran a 4.03 short shuttle, suggesting he has pretty good agility.

One concern about young players is ball security. I’ve been unable to find definitive figures for his fumbles while in college, but I believe he had three each in his freshman and sophomore years, whereas I can’t find any record of him having fumbled in his junior or senior seasons.

A lot of the players the Jets pick up via waivers or during the season are said to have struggled in preseason, so when I scout them for BGA I do so with low expectations (and a lot of the time they show some promise). However, Grimes drew rave reviews in preseason, having averaged 4.6 yards per carry, as he battled with veteran Justin Forsett for the third running back role. It was a slight surprise when he cleared waivers and landed on Houston’s practice squad and with Shonn Greene and the running game in general struggling, the Jets have likely made this move to shake things up. While his spot on the roster is guaranteed for three weeks, there are no guarantees he will be active or get any playing time. You may recall the Jets added tight end Shawn Nelson last season, but he was inactive for three weeks and then gone. However, that was partially due to injuries/illness.

Let’s review his preseason performances in depth:

2012 Preseason

Week One: Carolina – entered game at start of second half, 9-37 rushing, 1-18 receiving, one tackle

- Off a playfake, he picked up a blitzing linebacker to enable a quick throw.
- With nowhere to go, the left defensive end penetrated upfield to stop him getting outside and an unblocked linebacker hit him in the backfield, but his momentum carried him back to the line of scrimmage.
- He didn’t have a lot of room as he cut back behind his fullback, but broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, falling forward for three.
- Made a special teams tackle on the kickoff, getting off his block well as part of the second wave.
- The right defensive tackle got pushed back off the line and he showed good patience in the hole, cutting left and then falling forward after the hit for 11.
- Tried to get to the outside, but Antwan Applewhite got off his block forcing him back inside where he was bottled up for a two yard loss.
- Burst straight up the middle, almost untouched, for a three yard touchdown.
- Bad block by the fullback, but Grimes was hit a yard behind the line of scrimmage and was able to drive forward for a two yard gain.
- Followed his blocks off left tackle for three but was bottled up and gang tackled there.
- Leaked into the left flat for a screen pass and followed his blocks well downfield for an 18 yard gain, hurdling out of a tackle to tack a couple of extra yards onto the end of the play.
- This was a great play that went for a 14 yard gain on the play after his 18 yard catch. His left guard was driven back into his path, but he bounced to the outside where a linebacker tried to make a diving tackle in the backfield. He stumbled through that and made an impressively sharp upfield cut then used his speed to gain 14 yards, evading another lunging tackle downfield.
- This may have been designed for a cutback to the right, as there would have been a big cutback lane, if not for the fact that the left guard got submarined by his man. Grimes reacted quickly and got outside his blocker on the left side before cutting upfield. He broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and tried to step out of an ankle tackle three yards downfield before getting swarmed under.

In this game, he had one highlight reel play and two other decent gains. There were a few plays that were bottled up but he broke several tackles and didn’t seem to leave too many yards on the field.

Week Two: San Francisco – Didn’t play on offense until late in the third quarter, 2-22 rushing, 1-5 receiving

- Delayed draw play out of the shotgun, using a burst of speed off the edge to rush off the left side untouched with the defense playing back on 2nd and 23. With good speed, he was able to gain 16.
- 3rd and 16 screen for a five yard gain. Didn’t really have anywhere to go.
- Stayed in to block but no blitzer came through.
- Six yard run on second and ten. A simple one-read upfield cut over right guard.
- Similar play going left for five, but this time negated by a hold.

Didn’t get much playing time and made some routine, albeit positive plays. He did display a good burst of speed on the draw play.

Week Three: New Orleans – Entered the game on offense at the start of the third quarter, 4-22 rushing, 2-18 receiving, two tackles

- Great special teams play on a kickoff as he was one of the first guys down, crashed into a blocker and came off the block for a big hit short of the 20.
- On second and four with three receivers bunched to the right, he started off to the right, then cut back up the middle, hurdling a prone defender for six yards.
- The same delayed draw as in the previous game on 3rd and 15. He read a block on the edge and bounced to the outside for 10.
- The same delayed draw again on 3rd and 15, this time from their own five yard line. Grimes gained four as the defender in the backfield got a handful of his jersey and was able to complete the tackle as the blocks in front of him didn’t develop in time.
- Sidestepped a tackle in the backfield and ran into the pile for two.
- Made a special teams tackle on a kickoff return at the 25, just as it looked like the receiver was about to break into the open field.
- Down seven with 1:55 to go, from their own 43, the Texans opened their drive by throwing to Grimes three straight times. He ran a quick-in route for six over the middle, then gained 12 on the same play, with the defense backed further off this time so he could turn upfield, breaking a tackle to pick up the last couple of yards. The next one was a pretty similar play, but thrown to him slightly later. He was unable to haul in a low throw. He was then replaced as the comeback effort came up short.

Made a minor contribution on offense with some pretty routine plays, but did show the ability to break or avoid tackles. It was good to see him catch a couple of passes.

Week Four: Minnesota – Didn’t start, but played the whole game, 13-49 rushing, 2-17 receiving, one penalty

- There wasn’t really anywhere to go and an unblocked linebacker stopped him in his tracks for a two yard loss.
- Picked up a blitz well as the pocket collapsed. Only had to hold the block for a split second, but still enabled the pass to be complete.
- Again started off-tackle and cut back up the middle. There didn’t look like there was much room, but he squeezed through a tight gap and spun forward for six.
- Same play again to the right on the next snap, but this time he had more room, breaking a tackle at the second level and powering forward downfield for 16.
- On third and goal at the five, he was a quick checkdown underneath and was hit at the two. He fell forward, but didn’t break the plane.
- On fourth and goal from the one, he went low but was unable to break the plane.
- Motioned out wide, but then flinched at the snap and was called for a false start.
- Another delayed draw on third and 14. He put the brakes on at the second level and almost broke away from a tackler by cutting back to the inside, but the tackler brought him down after being dragged for a couple of extra yards, limiting the gain to eight.
- Didn’t have anywhere to go on an off-tackle run to the right, so tried to bounce it outside but could only get back to the line of scrimmage.
- Off a playfake on 3rd and three, he leaked out to the flat and was wide open for an easy 13-yard gain.
- Gained six yards over the right side with a huge hole and was tackled immediately at the second level as he was a little hesitant.
- Bounced off contact at the line of scrimmage and picked up two up the middle.
- Stayed in to block, but the protection failed and the quarterback was sacked. It was impossible to see who was at fault, but the left guard blocked nobody as the pressure came off his side, although it may have been Grimes’ responsibility to stay back and pick up that man.
- Another 3rd and 15 draw play where he dodged one tackle and side-stepped another but only gained four yards.
- A counter play that didn’t really work. He skipped out of a tackle in the backfield and dove ahead for one yard.
- An outside run, where he cut back for three yards. Might have made more yardage if he kept going to the outside.
- Not much room and picked up two on that same play where he starts off going right and cuts back upfield on the right side, followed by a similar play going to the left with the same result.
- Stayed in to block on third down and managed to get his hands on the edge rusher. He only needed to sustain the block for a second.

There were a few negatives in this game. For the first time, he was tackled a few times without falling forward as he had done well over the first three games. He also had a couple of plays where he perhaps didn’t make the right read and a possible breakdown in pass protection. It was also disappointing to see him fail to get in the endzone on two plays early on. Despite all that, he was still pretty productive, making the most of whenever he had some running room and still managing to escape some tackles too.

Conclusions

You can see why Grimes created some preseason buzz. He has a nice burst of speed, the ability to shake and break tackles and usually finishes his runs falling forward. He also looks to be a competent safety valve option in the passing game. Overall, he was probably more impressive than any of the Jets’ backs were in preseason, although you should factor in that the Jets were installing a brand new system and blocking scheme, whereas the Texans – although they’ve had some personnel changes – are still running the same system that made their running game one of the best in the league over the past couple of years.

It was interesting to see that Houston’s running game was every bit as vanilla as the Jets’ was in preseason, if not moreso. Most of their running plays were pretty straightforward one-read cutback runs and they also ran the same delayed draw over and over again whenever they had a third and long. They did sprinkle in the occasional different play, but it’s difficult to get a read on whether Grimes has any limitations or if he was actually held back by the predictability.

My biggest concern with Grimes would be that he apparently came from a zone system in college and that’s what the Texans play too. With Shonn Greene showing signs that he is struggling to make the right reads in the Jets’ new blocking system, this may be a sign that it could take Grimes some time to adjust too. In general when looking for signs of whether he has good vision, it was a bit of a mixed bag. There were a couple of plays where he left yards on the field, but he did seem to make the right decision and react quickly most of the time.

Being a little smaller and perhaps more slippery than the other backs the Jets have, Grimes brings a slightly different skill-set to the table, one which may be suited to the third down back role. However, can he pass block well enough to play that role. It was a fairly small sample size, because he usually ran a route when the Texans passed the ball with him in, but when he did stay in, he did do a good job of getting in front of his man most of the time. However, in each case, he was only required to hold his block for a short time and his lack of size would probably mean his pass blocking contributions would be limited to doing that.

One other interesting factor is that he made a few contributions on special teams on the kick coverage unit. That’s a role that Bilal Powell currently plays with the Jets, but Shonn Greene likely wouldn’t. Therefore, I wonder if they have plans to increase Powell’s role on offense and replace him on special teams. With Joe McKnight potentially moving to corner, that could free up an active roster spot to enable this to happen.

As with any move made at this stage in the season, it’s difficult to know how quickly Grimes will be able to contribute, if at all. However, he did show some flashes that he could be a productive running back, especially when the line blocks well for him. Of course, life will get easier for the other backs too if the run blocking improves. Ultimately, it’s never a bad idea to bring a fresh set of legs to the running game, so we’ll be looking forward to seeing what Grimes can do with his shot.